RIYADH: At least 87 people were killed when a crane toppled over at Mecca’s Grand Mosque on Friday, Saudi Arabia’s Civil Defence head said, less than two weeks before Islam’s annual haj pilgrimage.
General Suleiman al-Amr, director general of the Civil Defence Authority, told al-Ikhbariya television 183 people were injured.
“All those who were wounded and the dead have been taken to hospital. There are no casualties left at the location,” he added. Strong wind and rains had uprooted trees and affected cranes in the area, he said.
A statement by a spokesman for the administration of the mosques in Mecca and Medina said the crane smashed into the part of the Grand Mosque where worshippers circumambulate the Kaaba and where pilgrims walk between Mount Safa and Marwa.
Pictures circulating on social media showed pilgrims in bloodied robes and debris from a part of the crane that appeared to have crashed through a ceiling.
Saudi authorities go to great lengths to prepare for the millions of Muslims who converge on Mecca to perform the sacred pilgrimage. Last year, they reduced the numbers permitted to perform haj on safety grounds because of construction work to enlarge the Grand Mosque.
The pilgrimage, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, has been prone to disasters in the past, mainly from stampedes as pilgrims rush to complete rituals and return home. Hundreds of pilgrims died in such a crush in 2006.
Saudi authorities have since spent vast sums to expand the main haj sites and improve Mecca’s transport system, in an effort to prevent more disasters.
Security services often ring Islam’s sacred city with checkpoints and other measures to prevent people arriving for the pilgrimage without authorization.
Those procedures, aimed at reducing crowd pressure which can lead to stampedes, fires and other hazards, have been intensified in recent years as security threats grow throughout the Middle East.